Service level agreements are often driven and defined entirely by IT people without collaboration or agreement, and as such they are only concerned with measuring individual IT components, rather than the cumulative sum effect of these, as they are used. Here is a discussion of a different way.

by Barclay Rae
Date Published November 11, 2020 - Last Updated 3 Years, 99 Days, 17 Hours, 47 Minutes ago

The “Watermelon SLA” concept is a simple, graphical way of showing that many service level agreements (SLAs) are not fit for purpose. This has been successful in getting some clear and honest messages across to the industry about expectation management, performance measurement, metrics and relationship management.

The basic idea of this is that, as a watermelon looks green from the outside, but is in fact a red fruit inside, IT metrics and contracted agreements can be met and look “green” on a RAG report, when the reality for the business user is of a failed “red” experience and outcome. The reasons behind this are mostly around a lack of agreement on the actual business outcomes required from the service, or how it feels when the service is consumed by its users. SLAs are often driven and defined entirely by IT people without collaboration or agreement, and as such they are only concerned with measuring individual IT components, rather than the cumulative sum effect of these, as they are used.

I’ve written on this on a number of occasions. It’s one of these ideas that is so simple to show and communicate via a picture, rather than an explanation. I have used this for over 10 years and initially thought that I’d created the idea myself, although I know a few others came up with the same concept around the same time. It doesn’t matter who came up with this of course – what is important is the recognition that the image and concept can create. This has been quite successful in communicating an idea, although many organisations still have been working to outdated old watermelon SLA.

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The Covid pandemic has of course changed a lot of expectations and actual delivery levels for much of the standard IT services package. Traditional models have been set aside in the rush to establish new ways of working. Service desks and support teams have new demands and customer expectations. My hope and belief is that all of this will finally help us to move away from the watermelons, to a much more “watertight” approach that is inclusive, integrated, and honest – i.e. it reflects business reality, not IT focus. Covid has been the catalyst to sweep away the IT-led watermelon SLA – at last.

As we move into the new worlds of digital and agile and post-COVID IT, there are now a variety of new ways of thinking about the ‘SLA’ concept. These must reflect the need for more than just individual metrics relating to individual service components. We now understand the end-to-end requirements of value streams and how services include a number of components, resources, skills, and practices. Agreements and associated metrics must relate to the intended business outcomes required – and whether these have been met or not, regardless of the individual components.

OXMs – Outcome- and eXperience-based Metrics

XLAs™ – Experience level agreements – have grown in popularity in recent times and in ITIl4 and other frameworks and models. The idea here is a good one in that the measurement of success is based on customer and user experience measurement overall, regardless of individual IT performance. There is a need to also include business outcomes, employee experience, and performance measurement in this as part of a metrics “bundle” – so this could include individual service metrics, business key metrics and feedback, and customer data. These can then be weighted to provide single overall metrics that reflect both experience and outcomes.

Discussions around “agreements” can then simply focus on the relative importance of the individual metrics – so the OXM is a hybrid of customer/user, business and IT performance and value. This can be developed as an extension of what we have previously referred to as services and service catalogue – with added outcomes and definitions of overall value and success.

The watermelon meme should therefore be replaced with the idea of a watertight and well managed ship – containing a number of different elements, people, skills and resources – that is headed in a single direction. Our metrics and measurements should then reflect progress on the journey, safety, fuel efficiency etc.

The OXM will therefore show progress on reaching the destination safely, on time and profitably, not simply that the food was good but we sank.

The OXM name and concept was defined by Barclay Rae in July 2020.

This article first appeared on the author’s blog, and can be found here.


Barclay Rae Barclay is an experienced ITSM consultant, analyst and writer. He has worked on approximately 700 ITSM projects over the last 25 years, and also writes blogs, research and papers on ITSM topics for a variety of industry organisations and vendors. He has also worked for a number of ITSM organisations, and he delivers strategic ITSM consultancy, as well as media analyst services to the ITSM industry. He is an ITIL4 Lead Architect, Lead Editor of the ‘ITIL4 Create , Deliver and Support’ publication, and a co-architect of the ITIL Practitioner scheme with Axelos. 

In addition, he is a co-author of the SDI SDC certification standards and a participant in the current ISO/IEC 20000 revision. Barclay is an associate of SDI – as a consultant and auditor. 

He is a Director of EssentialSM and itSMF UK, of which he was CEO from 2015 - 2018. Barclay also is a partner in A2V Services, which develops new start-up businesses. He is also non-executive director for several companies. 

Barclay is also a regular speaker at industry conferences and events, in the UK and globally, including, SITS, SDI, itSMF, Pink Elephant, SMW, UCISA and others. Barclay was named in the HDI top 25 Thought Leaders in Technical Support and Service Management, 2017, 2018 and 2019, and ‘ITSM Contributor of the year’ in 2014 at the SITS show. 

Barclay also created ‘ITSMGoodness’ – a set of practical steps and guidelines – simple practical and proven tips and tools – for successful ITSM. Visit www.barclayrae.com for details, follow Barclay at @barclayrae .


Tag(s): supportworld, best practice, agile, business alignment, customer satisfaction, framework and methodologies, KPI, practices, relationship

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